Last week J and I replaced one of my therapy sessions with a walk. We’ve never done that before, and I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was happy to think of doing something ‘normal’ with her, but on the other, I was nervous about doing something outside of the norm for our relationship.
There have only been a few occasions since starting therapy with J nearly three years ago when we’ve done something different to the standard sitting in a small room facing one another. When I was in the psychiatric hospital, J came to visit me each week and we never knew where we’d be able to meet. I was always a little anxious about that, and about being uncertain what space we would be in. But none of those rooms were that far removed from her office. The unusual thing there was that she was coming into my space. That did make the energy feel very different. But then everything was different, and I was in a very strange place psychologically at the time.
Once, J came to see me when I was in hospital after taking an overdose. I’d gone for Paracetamol, which meant I had to be on IV drugs for a few days. She was kind enough to come and see me so I didn’t have to miss my session with her. I was in bad shape, but I remember how good it felt when I woke from a nap and she was there. I’m not sure it was a particularly therapeutic session, but I was hugely comforted by seeing her and it helped me through a horrible experience.
Reflecting now, it did feel odd for her to see me in that state. The professional aspect of the relationship means I do generally try and make myself somewhat presentable when I see her. I remember it feeling awkward that I was unwashed and dressed only in a hospital gown. And of course when I think of it now, it’s almost cringeworthy that I was in bed. I guess that’s one of the oddest things about the relationship isn’t it? That strange mixture of professionalism, distance, boundaries and intimacy.
One of our most important ‘non standard’ meetings occurred when I was in the process of reporting my abuse to the police. I had to give a video statement, in which I was to state every incident I could remember, chronologically and in as much detail as possible. I was terrified of how this would be, but I was allowed to take a ‘supporter’ with me. J wasn’t allowed in the room during the interview, but it meant a great deal to me that she was willing to come and sit in the next room to support me. Her presence made me feel safe; I knew she was watching on a monitor and would intervene if I wasn’t OK. She reassured me and gave me hugs. She loaned me her scarf to wear because it was chilly, and probably also because she knew it would help me feel close to her. I don’t think I could’ve got through it without her.
So it’s not like we’ve never been out of context before. But it felt very different on Thursday. J wasn’t intervening in a crisis, it wasn’t an exceptional circumstance. She couldn’t do our usual session time and I said I didn’t want a morning session because we had one recently and I struggled to get through the day afterwards. It’s easier when it’s later as I then only have a few hours alone before my wife comes home from work. That’s why J suggested we do something different and meet for a walk instead.
I was nervous about how it would be to talk to her without the confines and conventions of being in the usual space. I knew we wouldn’t be doing any deep therapeutic work, but that worried me too, as I am not used to making small talk with her. Therapy is like the opposite of every other relationship in life, where small talk is the norm and the deep stuff is generally an exception.
The great thing is that it wasn’t at all awkward or odd. We walked in the woods, our dogs ran about and played, and it didn’t feel difficult. I don’t think I’ve ever seen J without something coming up that made me anxious or scared or ashamed before. It felt so good to spend time with her and not have to experience any of that stuff. I always look forward to seeing her for our normal sessions, but it’s rare for me to actually enjoy my time with her.
For sure, therapy can’t always be easy, otherwise we’d never get anywhere. But talking to J about everyday stuff, without getting stressed and upset was a real breath of fresh air for me. It gave me a stronger sense of our relationship, and of her as a human – as well as my therapist. It might have value in a different sort of way, but I really think that was therapeutic too.